by William McFee. Garden City: Doubleday, Page & Co. 1924. 12mo. viii+398 pp. $2.00.
‘ WHEN you strike at a king, you must kill him.’ But Emerson’s advice applies only to hostile attacks. Adverse criticism from a friend only marks his high standard of opinion, and Mr. McFee may safely take the faultfinding of one of his readers as the most earnest, kind of flattery.
Race is a story of suburban London in the eighteen-eighties. The heroines are two of a family of seven daughters; the heroes are a pair of friends, one English, the other French. There is no plot, but the upshot of events is that the two girls leave an unsatisfactory home and the two men leave England. Now I count on Mr. McFee — and Conrad — for my sea-stories; in this book I got only ten pages of the sea and at that the ship was fast to the dock. However, it is the last ten pages, and the ship is leaving for Costaragua, and I take that as an implied covenant for the scene and subject of his next book.
And so to the flattery. There is no plot, that is, no symmetrical scheme, to give every fact and every event a bearing on some other, and nothing without an influence on the result. That is not necessarily a fault except in a detective story. But if an author dispenses with plot he must contrive somehow to give his readers a sense of inevitability in the sequence of events. The reader must feel that, although he did not know it was going to happen, yet, when it did, it had to. After all, what is plot but an ancient device for that, very purpose?
Hazel and Lena, Mr. MeFee’s heroines, and Francis and Louis, his heroes, are real, and most of the minor characters are real, Indeed the book adds so many to the individualities in the world that it must be interesting to the rest. But there is no sense of the inevitable in what they do. Lena is the most feminine creature in the book, as Francis is the most masculine. Yet Lena marries a character whose name is too easily forgotten, and Francis takes no substantial interest in anyone else, let alone women. Hazel is going to become a too successful authoress, and Louis, the Frenchman, likes the ladies generally; yet Mr. McFee chooses to mate them.
I do not see why. However, a reviewer can make hash of the best of books, and the only people to correct such a reviewer are readers. They ought to try, and they will be glad if they do.